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Flail Mower

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About a month ago, I hired a crew to help prune all the coffee trees.  It was a large job that would have taken me forever.  I pruned the front field by myself.  It was the "easy" field because the trees are only a couple years old.  Still, there are over 1000 trees in that front field and it took me about a week to get the entire thing pruned.

The actual pruning is just the first step.  The next problem is what to do with all the branches.  In the back fields, where all the mature trees are, the aisles between the trees were stacked high with trimmed branches.  Far too many branches to easily haul away.  The easiest solution is to run over them with a large flail mower.  A flail mower is a PTO (power take-off) wood chipper that is mounted horizontally and towed behind a tractor.  Anything it runs over is quickly and noisily reduced to tiny fragments.

Fixing Since I paid the pruners by the hour, I wasn't too concerned with how neatly they stacked the pruned branches.  That meant that before the flail mower showed up, I had to go back through all the rows to make sure the branches were stacked where the mower could get at them.  At the same time, I had to move anything I didn't want to get chopped up, such as all the irrigation lines, to some place where the mower couldn't get at them.  It may sound like an easy task but it was a very strenuous and back breaking job that took many days.

Preparing for the flail mower took far longer than I though it would.  That worked out fine because the flail mower didn't show up when expected anyways.  I knew it would be delayed when I found my neighbor down the street (it's his tractor and mower) climbing under the thing with a wrench.  The tractor had blown a hydraulic steering actuator, forcing my neighbor to drive in circles until he could maneuver out of the street.  Everything here on the island needs to be imported so it took awhile before the part could be ordered and the tractor fixed.

When the tractor and flail mower finally make it up to my place, it made quick work of all the piles of branches.  Although the word quick certainly does not imply easy.  Every few rows we had to stop and replace a broken flail.  Putting a new flail on isn't too difficult, it's removing the bent and mangled shards of the previous flail that's the challenge.  Big tools, lots of pounding and a little leverage got the job done.  Greg, the operator, managed to change several broken flails without cutting open a single knuckle.  After the fourth broken flail we decided to lower the roller bar which raises the mower a bit so it wouldn't hit quite as many rocks.  The down side is that raising the mower leaves behind lots of partly chewed branches.  I had to follow behind the mower and move all the big missed chunks to the adjacent row so they'd get hit again on the next pass.  It was a lot of work but was still faster and cheaper than having to repeatedly replace broken flails.

Now that I'm done pruning, it's time to start fertilizing.  That's another big and expensive task.  But it's gotta be done if I want healthy trees and good coffee.

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